U.S. Jobs: Moderate Bounce-Back in May

The U.S. employment outlook is improving, but there's still a long way to go.

With a solid jump of 2.5 million jobs added for May, and a concomitant drop in unemployment from 14.7 to 13.5 percent, the jobs market is showing its first signs of reversing the recent pandemic-induced freefall in employment that began in March. As you'd expect the sectors on the rebound included hard-hit leisure and hospitality, and also construction, education and health services, and retail trade.


To be sure, unemployment is still eye-wateringly high, with 21 million people currently out of work, up by 15.2 million (9.8 percent) since February. It would take six straight months of comparable job gains to get the country back to where it was in January and February. We're not even close to being out of the woods yet.


Yet here's another glimmer of statistical sunshine: In May, the number of those who had been out of work less than 5 weeks dropped by 10.4 million to 3.9 million (18.5 percent of the unemployed). That was offset by those out of work between 5 and 14 weeks jumping by 7.8 million to 14.8 million (70.8 percent of the unemployed).


Long-term unemployed people (jobless for 27 weeks or longer) only increased by a relatively paltry 225,000 to 1.2 million (5.6 percent of the unemployed). Thus, the shift to longer terms of unemployment is being offset by a reduction in the short-term cohort that exceeds that shift in numbers.


Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend that will see the shift reverse direction and the total unemployed population shrink. We shall see.


Where the Jobs Are Coming Back


Here's where jobs started coming back in May:


? Leisure and hospitality — Gained 1.2 million, following losses of 7.5 million in April and 743,000 in March
? Food services and drinking places — Gained 1.4 million, for almost half the overall gain in employment (down by 6.1 million for March and April combined)
? Construction — Gained 464,000 jobs in May, nearly half of April's losses of 995,000 jobs
? Education and health services — Gained 424,000 jobs in May, following a steep drop of 2.6 million jobs in April
? Retail — Gained 368,000, after a loss of 2.3 million in April


Healthcare, surprisingly, is something of a mixed bag: Gains in dental and medical offices (just over 380,000 jobs added) were somewhat offset by losses in nursing and assisted living facilities and hospitals (64,000 jobs lost).


Where the Jobs Are Still Declining


The U.S. employment outlook is improving, but there's still a long way to go.

The meter hasn't, however, turned around in all sectors yet. Here are some where declines persisted into May:


? Accommodations (hotels, inns, bed andbreakfasts, etc.) — Dropped another 148,000 jobs, with 1.1 million lost for March and April
? Government — Dropped another 585,000 jobs May, after losing 963,000 in April
? Information — Dropped by 38,000 for May, much less than April's fall of 272,000


Other losing sectors include mining (down by 20,000) and transportation and warehousing (down by 19,000).


What Do the Numbers Say?


Where the numbers are negative, they're much smaller across the board than for April. Where they're positive, they show the biggest increases in service jobs that were summarily shut down to combat the pandemic. Sectors hardest hit are also the one bouncing back the fastest.


While we still have a long way to go, this latest report is more positive than I had expected it to be, and shows further indications that more improvement could easily be forthcoming. It all depends on how well the coronavirus can be contained and managed. Another surge could turn things in the wrong direction, but the current slow and steady improvement appears to be pulling the economy (and the jobs market) back up along the way.


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About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.